IS THIS REALLY happening? Three years after the city council smartly tossed them aside because of racial-profiling concerns, are drug-free zones (DFZs) really about to be back en vogue at Portland City Hall?
Here's one telling response from Mayor Sam Adams' office: "Maybe." For the record, that's not a "no."
That "short answer," as Adams' spokesman candidly described it last week, came after I called with questions about a letter that a group of business owners in Chinatown and Old Town sent to Adams earlier this month.
In the letter, dated February 1, they made a short but plaintive demand for the reactivation of the city's much-maligned DFZs, and they asked for Adams' help in convening a "working group" of advocates whose work would smooth the way for what the businesses want.
But what was most interesting—and what really sparked my call to Adams' office—was the business community's vision for how the new DFZs ought to work. Hoping to sidestep some of the inevitable controversy over the revivification of a crime-fighting policy that disproportionately targeted—by far—Portland's African American community, they stole a page from Adams' own playbook.
Unlike the previous zones, in which a mere arrest could get someone booted, these would be based on actual convictions. And there would even be exemptions for people who need to visit clinics and case workers based in the area.
That ought to sound familiar. Because that's exactly how Adams, last fall, persuaded a skeptical council to unanimously endorse his controversial plans for gun-crime exclusion zones.
And that's where the "maybe" comes in. I had posed those similarities to Adams' spokesman, Roy Kaufmann, and asked whether the mayor—who has signaled his willingness to examine the DFZ request—might look to the gun zones as a template for that conversation.
But then his short answer, of course, got a little bit longer. Yes, the council wound up liking the gun zones, he said, but noted that the zones "are still pretty much brand new." The first look at racial data for the zones is due out soon.
"It's too soon to assess whether they're working the way we want them to work," he says, "and whether there's a template in practical terms rather than in philosophical terms."
In addition, Adams' office will also be looking at whether Multnomah County will rethink its decision last summer to cut costs by not prosecuting low-level drug crimes. A zone based on convictions wouldn't be much good, after all, if there weren't any convictions.
But it's a conversation Adams will be having all the same. And if his colleagues liked what he had to say once, why wouldn't they want to listen again?